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Archive for February, 2012

Fastnacht Day

Shrove Tuesday is Fastnacht day where I come from. Pennsylvania Germans celebrate not with parades and costumes, but with food (of course), making donuts called fastnachts sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with honey, molasses or in our case, jam.

I always wanted to make fastnachts, but most recipes are quite complicated, requiring preparation the night before you want to make them and hours and hours of rising time. I managed to find one recipe for cruller-style fastnachts, however, that do not use yeast and can be made pretty easily.

Cutting the fastnachts.

Frying the fastnachts.

Yum!!! Served with our wild plum jam

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Part of the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge is to try worm composting. I was sure we could make a composter out of plastic bins – there are so many places to find instructions for this on the internet – but I was not so sure we could get worms.

I searched and found on-line providers, but was skeptical of mail ordering worms in winter. One of the providers, Ekodomov (Ecohome) is located nearby and I’d long wanted to visit their ecology center, so the girls and I set off on our adventure to find worms. If this didn’t work, I was ready to try hunting/fishing stores hoping they’d have the right kind of worms for sale as bait. A long shot, but I couldn’t think of anything else.

We found Ekodomov’s front gate, but it was locked. No opening hours were posted. Maybe it wouldn’t open until spring. There were signs pointing to the ecology center, but we couldn’t find it. We returned to the gate just to check and somehow daughter #2 pushed it open.  We went inside but seemed to be in someone’s back yard. I’ve lived here long enough to know

1) it’s easier to apologize than ask permission,

2) things rarely look like I would expect them to, and

3) it isn’t that unusual for two houses to share a common driveway and gate.

We went on through the garden and the next gate.  Still no sign of anything that looked like an ecology center, only homes. I even saw someone through the window, making lunch. We walked around a little but saw nothing.

I decided we should probably leave, we must be in the wrong place, and it was then that I saw the tiny little sign on the tiny little building that I at first thought was a garage. We walked up to it so see if the hours were posted and someone opened the door from inside and asked what we wanted. I kind of stuttered and smiled and he said, “You want worms, right?!”

WE HAVE WORMS!!

The 3 men working there were very friendly and helpful, showing us a homemade worm composter and discussing the right kinds of bins to use. We left, promising to send photos of our finished work.

We headed triumphantly off to the hardware store to buy bins.  There was quite a selection, though all of the bins were transparent. All my internet sources say not to use transparent bins, but the guy at Ekodomov had said he’d tried it and it worked fine. So, transparent bins it is1

The girls were very excited (or perhaps just amused at their strange mother) and gleefully announced to their father that we have worms, our first farm animal! We enlisted his help in drilling holes in the bins, invited our neighbor to come watch and went to work.

Wetting shredded newspaper and putting it in as bottom layer.

Bottom layer done

Adding worms

Next a layer of compost

Another layer of shredded paper - do they REALLY eat it?!?

Finished bin in place in the entry hall.

Making dinner was especially exciting as we could feed our worms for the first time! Both girls had a turn.

Daughter #1

Daughter #2

The first thing I did this morning was peek inside – no worms in sight.

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I saw this posted on another website and thought, “What a great way for me to explore all the things I’ve been reading about. This will push me to do it!”

I signed up.

I asked my green friend/neighbor to sign up so we can do this together.

I put a little button on my blog sidebar to declare my intentions (see it over there?!).

I excitedly read the February Challenge. It’s about…

SOIL…

the scariest thing in my garden (why? read this).

Deep breath. I can do this!

Soil Building Challenge #1: Plan for Compost

My not perfect compost

I already do this. I already have a compost area and 2 compost bins made out of old pallets. I’m sure I don’t compost very skillfully – all the talk of aeration, green/brown ratio, moisture, etc. is intimidating to me, so I mostly ignore it. And almost everyone ends by saying that it’s okay if it’s not perfect. Whew! I can do “not perfect” really well!

Soil Building Challenge #2: Buy fertilizer in bulk or make it from scratch.

Joshua McNichols, author of the challenge, says, “Here in Seattle, I just drive out to so-and-so’s store…” to buy all the ingredients to make organic fertilizer. Mmmhmm. Well, here in Prague, I am stumped. The shopping list includes: alfalfa seed meal, agricultural lime, gypsum, Dolomitic lime, fish bone meal, cal phos and kelp meal. I’m thinking I should be able to find lime. The Dolomites are, after all, a lot closer to me than they are to him…

Luckily I am on holiday this week and maybe I can start to track some of these things down. First step: translate!

alfalfa seed meal = mletá vojtěška osivo

agricultural lime = zemědelské vápno

gypsum = sádrovec

Dolomitic lime = Dolomitský (just guessing here) vápno

fish bone meal = mleté rybí kosti

cal phos = fosforečnan vápenatý

kelp meal = mletá čepelatka

Searching the internet for “organic fertilizer” in Czech, I found:

AgroBio. It is unclear whether this is organic fertilizer, though they do say their products are as safe as they can be for the environment. There is a liberal sprinkling of expressions like “bio” which usually means organic, but in this case I’m not sure, and “organicky” which might not mean the kind of organic I want. They do sell Borax, however, which I have also been looking for!

AgroNatura. These guys really do seem to be organic and they sell fertilizer, but it is expensive! I don’t see any of the ingredients for sale, either.

Bat guano fertilizer. Guaranteed to be organic and easy on the environment, sold at a local “grow shop,” a shop for Cannabis growers (this really is leading me to new and strange places!). They do seem to have a nice assortment of other organic fertilizers, though.

Biozahrada. Translates as “organic garden.” Very promising! They have many brands of fertilizer, insecticides, mycorrhizal  mixes, compost and even organic seeds (not a huge selection). On-line shop and a store not so far from Prague.

Well, at least some place to start. Perhaps my partner in all this and I can visit a few of these places and make some fertilizer by spring.

Soil Building Challenge #3:  Build a Worm Bin

I can do this! The instructions are pretty easy and I finally found a source of worms (at Bio.cz). I think the girls and I can manage this on Monday! Look for photos soon.

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Planning the Garden

Where do I start? One piece of advice I saw said, “Read everything you can find…” Are you serious?! Everything? Have you heard of the internet? No, I don’t think I’ll be reading everything I can find.

Definitely TMI!!

Reading the books I have is quite enough information, thank you. Here’s what I’m using as my main resources:

  • Crockett’s Victory Garden, James Underwood Crockett
  • Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway
  • The Backyard Homestead, Ed. Carleen Madigan
  • Your Organic Garden, Jeff Cox and Rodale
  • A Grower’s Guide to Herbs, Geoffrey Burnie and John Fenton-Smith
  • Tips for the Lazy Gardener, Linda Tilgner

At first I was so overwhelmed I did’t know where to start.

So, I broke the process down into a couple of parts

  1. What do we want to grow?
  2. Where can I get seeds/plants?
  3. How much do we need to plant?
  4. Where should I place them in the garden?
  5. What requirements do they have once planted?
  6. When should I start seeds and where?

What do we want to grow?

This is the easiest part. Ask the family, make a list. What could be simpler? Except there’s almost nothing that everybody likes and lots that only I like! The list is pretty long…40 vegetables and 30 herbs at last count. Don’t even get me started on fruit…

Where can I get seeds or plants?

This is a bit trickier because of all the choices out there. Growing heirloom varieties appeals to me, but I’m not sure where to source them locally. Buying from a local garden center also makes sense as presumably what they have on offer is suited to grow here.  And some of the seed companies are Czech, so I would be sourcing my seeds locally. But they might not be (in fact, almost surely are not) organic, chemically untreated, non-GMO, etc. It’s dizzying trying to weigh the pros and cons of these choices.

Then there is just the overwhelming number of varieties to choose from. I read somewhere there are more than 3000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to choose from.  This is pretty much true for all the other kinds of vegetables we want to plant, too. Ack!

In the end, I decided to use what I have saved from last year, which covers about 3/4 of the veggies and half of the herbs.

photo from their website

My next stop is the local garden center, Chládek in Střešovice. It’s a Czech company that I have seen expand dramatically in the years I’ve lived here. I think they source many of their plants and seeds locally. And a friend who is an avid gardener tells me that they will order things if they don’t have them in stock, so perhaps they will be able to find some of the more obscure things on my list for me.

How much do I need to grow?

Some of my books give indications of quantity needed per person. Northwest Edible Life, my favorite blog, has an Annual Produce Planner available for download. And I have a little bit of experience, so I came up with some quantities and for the rest we’ll just have to wing it! For the most part, though, the answer is, way more than I have been growing!! Which  leads me to the next point…

Where in my garden should I grow all this?

At the moment I have no idea…I’ll share as soon as I figure it all out.

When should I start my seeds?

Organic Gardening magazine’s website has a wonderful tool to help with this: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/seed-starting-chart

I’m looking at starting on 24 February with onions.

The latest 3-week spell of cold weather and snow has made spring seem much farther away than it did in December when it was much warmer (!), but the days are getting longer. It better warm up soon – sitting indoors with nothing to do but plan has meant a longer and longer wish list!

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